Four in five doctors in Ireland (79%) are worried that if there is an expectation for more appointments to be delivered remotely after Covid-19, some vulnerable patient groups may get left behind, according to a survey by Medical Protection.
In the Medical Protection survey of 361 doctors in Ireland, 64% agreed that the benefits of telemedicine have been unquestionable during Covid-19, and that it will remain a fundamental tool in practice. However, 79% raised concerns about patients whose access to remote services may be impacted by factors such as digital literacy, disability, language, location or internet connection.
80% of the doctors surveyed went on to say they are concerned that if some patients feel excluded from telemedicine, this may result in a breakdown in the doctor/patient relationship, or conditions being left untreated. 78% also said they are generally more worried about missing something in a remote consultation, with 64% saying they are more worried about a claim or investigation arising.
Last month, the Medical Council reported a five-fold increase in the use of telemedicine in Ireland since the start of the pandemic, and it is looking at the regulatory challenges presented by the increase in its use.
Medical Protection – the world’s leading protection organisation for healthcare professionals, supporting over 21,000 in Ireland - said the Government and healthcare system must take a long-term strategic approach when it comes to the role of virtual care beyond the pandemic, taking into account doctors’ concerns, patients’ experiences, and research on digital inequality.
Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Medicolegal Lead, Risk Prevention at Medical Protection, said: “Telemedicine is not a new concept and the use of technology in delivering medical services has been slowly evolving over the years. Covid-19 has however fast-tracked large-scale adoption, and while the benefits have been indisputable during the pandemic there are naturally concerns around its limitations, the need for support and training due to the different skills required when consulting in this way, and the desired role of virtual care beyond the pandemic.
“A key concern for doctors is the potential for vulnerable patient groups to be left behind and for health inequalities to grow, if there is desire for more patient consultations to be delivered online after Covid-19. Access to remote services could be impacted by factors such as digital literacy, disability, language, location or internet connection.
“As doctors have highlighted in our survey, if patients feel excluded from telemedicine, this could lead to a breakdown in the doctor/patient relationship or conditions going untreated. A significant number of doctors are concerned about the potential for medicolegal disputes and investigations to arise from this and other limitations of telemedicine.
“We have been working with doctors to help them adapt to the significant increase in telemedicine and mitigate risks through our Risk Prevention programmes on the medicolegal, ethical and communication challenges which telemedicine creates. But the burden should not be on doctors to address the digital inequalities across society.
“The Government and healthcare system must take a long-term strategic approach when considering the role of virtual care beyond the pandemic. This should be based on the experiences of patients, an ongoing evaluation of the barriers to accessing telemedicine for vulnerable patient groups, and the concerns raised by doctors. Doctors must feel supported by the Government and should not be left to deal with any unintended repercussions from an increased use of telemedicine.”
Notes to editors
The survey was conducted by MPS. It ran from 17 September – 30 September and achieved 361 responses from doctors in the Republic of Ireland.
The following 10 statements were provided. Optional answers were: ‘strongly disagree’, ‘tend to disagree’, ‘strongly agree’, ‘tend to agree’ or ‘don’t know’. The agree and disagree answers have been combined:
- The benefits of telemedicine have been unquestionable, and it will remain a fundamental tool in practice: Agree: 64%, disagree: 25%
- If consultations are to become predominantly online, I am worried that some patient groups may be left behind (e.g. due to age, disability, low income, digital literacy, language, internet access, location etc.) Agree: 79%, disagree: 10%
- If some patients feel excluded from telemedicine, I am worried about a potential breakdown in the doctor/patient relationship, or conditions being left untreated: Agree: 80%, disagree 9%
- I am more worried about a claim or investigation arising from a remote consultation with a patient, than a face to face encounter Agree: 64%, disagree: 25%
- I am more worried about missing something in a remote consultation Agree: 78%, disagree 12%
- I struggle with telemedicine due to my own digital literacy/ability to use technology Agree: 24%, disagree: 64%
- I believe the medicolegal risks associated with telemedicine are greater, compared to face to face consultations Agree: 73%, Disagree: 16%
- I am worried about privacy/confidentiality and security issues with telemedicine Agree:50%, Disagree: 38%
- I have no concerns around the increased use of telemedicine, and all consultations should be done remotely in the future unless there is a compelling reason not to Agree:14%, Disagree: 74%
- We should stop thinking of telemedicine as a different kind of medicine; it is just medicine delivered in a different way Agree: 50%, Disagree: 50%
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The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”) is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of more than 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.
Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.
Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.
MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.